Let me remove my hat. Now, venerable priest, further into the light, and hold the Holy Book before me that I may touch it. So help me Heaven, and on my honour the story I have told ye, gentlemen, is in substance and its great items, true. I know it to be true; it happened on this ball; I trod the ship; I knew the crew; I have seen and talked with Steelkilt since the death of Radney.
I shall ere long paint to you as well as one can without canvas, something like the true form of the whale as he actually appears to the eye of the whaleman when in his own absolute body the whale is moored alongside the whale-ship so that he can be fairly stepped upon there.
It may be worth while, therefore, previously to advert to those curious imaginary portraits of him which even down tothe present day confidently challenge the faith of the landsman. It is time to set the world right in this matter, by proving such pictures of the whale all wrong.
It may be that the primal source of all those pictorial delusions will be found among the oldest Hindoo, Egyptian, and Grecian sculptures. For ever since those inventive but unscrupulous times when on the marble panellings of temples, the pedestals of statues, and on shields, medallions, cups, and coins, the dolphin was drawn in scales of chain-armor like Saladin’s, and a helmeted head like St. George’s; ever since then has something of the same sort of license prevailed, not only in most popular pictures of the whale, but in many scientific presentations of him.
Now, by all odds, the most ancient extant portrait anyways purporting to be the whale’s, is to be found in the famous cavern-pagoda of Elephanta, in India. The Brahmins maintain that in the almost endless sculptures of that immemorial pagoda, all the trades and pursuits, every conceivable avocation of man, were prefigured ages before any of them actually came into being.
I believe that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade… And try to find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party – Ron White
No wonder then, that in some sort our noble profession of whaling should have been there shadowed forth. The Hindoo whale referred to, occurs in a separate department of the wall, depicting the incarnation of Vishnu in the form of leviathan, learnedly known as the Matse Avatar. But though this sculpture is half man and half whale, so as only to give the tail of the latter, yet that small section of him is all wrong. It looks more like the tapering tail of an anaconda, than the broad palms of the true whale’s majestic flukes.
But go to the old Galleries, and look now at a great Christian painter’s portrait of this fish; for he succeeds no better than the antediluvian Hindoo. It is Guido’s picture of Perseus rescuing Andromeda from the sea-monster or whale. Where did Guido get the model of such a strange creature as that? Nor does Hogarth, in painting the same scene in his own “Perseus Descending,” make out one whit better.
The huge corpulence of that Hogarthian monster undulates on the surface, scarcely drawing one inch of water. It has a sort of howdah on its back, and its distended tusked mouth into which the billows are rolling, might be taken for the Traitors’ Gate leading from the Thames by water into the Tower. Then, there are the Prodromus whales of old Scotch Sibbald, and Jonah’s whale, as depicted in the prints of old Bibles and the cuts of old primers.
What shall be said of these? As for the book-binder’s whale winding like a vine-stalk round the stock of a descending anchor—as stamped and gilded on the backs and title-pages of many books both old and new—that is a very picturesque but purely fabulous creature, imitated, I take it, from the like figures on antique vases.
What shall be said of these?
Though universally denominated a dolphin, I nevertheless call this book-binder’s fish an attempt at a whale; because it was so intended when the device was first introduced. It was introduced by an old Italian publisher somewhere about the 15th century, during the Revival of Learning; and in those days, and even down to a comparatively late period, dolphins were popularly supposed to be a species of the Leviathan.
In the vignettes and other embellishments of some ancient books you will at times meet with very curious touches at the whale, where all manner of spouts, jets d’eau, hot springs and cold, Saratoga and Baden-Baden, come bubbling up from his unexhausted brain. In the title-page of the original edition of the “Advancement of Learning” you will find some curious whales.
Advancement of Learning
- I care. So, what do you think of her, Han?
- You mean it controls your actions?
- Look, I can take you as far as Anchorhead. You can get a transport there to Mos Eisley or wherever you’re going.
- I’m trying not to, kid.
But quitting all these unprofessional attempts, let us glance at those pictures of leviathan purporting to be sober, scientific delineations, by those who know. In old Harris’s collection of voyages there are some plates of whales extracted from a Dutch book of voyages, A.D. 1671, entitled “A Whaling Voyage to Spitzbergen in the ship Jonas in the Whale, Peter Peterson of Friesland, master.” In one of those plates the whales, like great rafts of logs, are represented lying among ice-isles, with white bears running over their living backs. In another plate, the prodigious blunder is made of representing the whale with perpendicular flukes.
What could be more full of meaning?—for the pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favourable winds. Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.
Father Mapple rose, and in a mild voice of unassuming authority ordered the scattered people to condense. “Starboard gangway, there! side away to larboard—larboard gangway to starboard! Midships! midships!”
There was a low rumbling of heavy sea-boots among the benches, and a still slighter shuffling of women’s shoes, and all was quiet again, and every eye on the preacher.